The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville is an upper-tier municipality located in southeastern Ontario, and is comprised of a mix of small towns and cities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, similar to other areas in Ontario, rents and housing resale prices skyrocketed. In 2020, a municipal Housing Affordability Task Force was formed in Leeds and Grenville to strategically examine housing affordability needs, and to recommend prioritized solutions. As an initiative to increase the supply of affordable rental housing in Leeds and Grenville, the Task Force recommended that a Secondary Suite program be developed.
The Ontario government[i] defines a secondary suite (also referred to as a second unit) as a self-contained dwelling unit with a private kitchen, bathroom facilities and sleeping area(s). It can be located within a primary dwelling or on the same property above a laneway garage, or in a coach house. Often, a secondary suite is created specifically by a homeowner for their aging parent or adult child. Secondary suites can help provide stability in housing for seniors, adults requiring assisted living arrangements and young adults seeking an affordable alternative to traditional rental housing. These units can also provide extra income for a homeowner, helping them pay the mortgage.
According to the 2021 Census of Population, approximately three-quarters of dwellings in Leeds and Grenville are single detached homes. Secondary Suites were identified by Council as a means to increase the supply of rental housing that would fit compatibly into the esthetic of Leeds Grenville‘s residential neighborhoods. When developing the secondary suite program, staff at Leeds Grenville reached out to other municipalities such as the City of Kingston and County of Simcoe, to learn from their experiences and best practices. Several municipalities across Ontario have opted for a dual-stream program, funded by both provincial and municipal dollars.
In March 2022, Leeds and Grenville launched their dual-stream program with the aim to stimulate the growth of affordable units by capitalizing on available provincial funding, while simultaneously creating a flexible municipally-funded program, that would allow for small landlords to create affordable units.
Leeds Grenville‘s program stream designed for homeowners is funded by the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative (OPHI) program, and requires that a secondary suite be built on the property of the sole and principal residence of the homeowner. A forgivable loan of up to $25,000 is provided for the construction of a new secondary suite unit, and requires unit rents to remain affordable for a twenty-year period. An additional $5,000 accessibility grant is available to reduce physical barriers related to housing, such as through the installation of barrier-free showers, lowered countertops or cues for fire alarms.
The municipally-funded Leeds and Grenville Landlord Secondary Suite program stream provides up to $25,000 in forgivable funding to small landlords to construct a new secondary suite, and rents must remain affordable for a fifteen year period.
Tenants selected for the secondary suite from either program stream must meet program eligibility requirements, including having income and assets below set limits.
Facilitating the creation of secondary suites was identified as a top priority in the More Homes, More Choice: Ontario‘s Housing Supply Action Plan[ii]. Secondary Suites installed in newly constructed homes are now exempt from development charges, to make homes more affordable and to facilitate the creation of more rental housing. The provincial government has also released Adding a Second Unit in an Existing House, which is a how-to guide to create a legal secondary suite. It includes information on municipal zoning requirements, building permits, building inspections, designing the unit to comply with the Building Code, and other practical advice. The guide also includes user-friendly checklists and can be found here: https://www.publications.gov.on.ca/CL29689.
Further information regarding the Leeds and Grenville‘s program is available at https://www.leedsgrenville.com/en/services/secondary-suites-programs.aspx.
[ii] More Homes, More Choice: Ontario‘s Housing Supply Action Plan, May 2019. https://www.ontario.ca/page/more-homes-more-choice-ontarios-housing-supply-action-plan
Caroline Rigutto has over twenty years‘ experience working in various roles at the Community and Social Services Division of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville. She began her career as an Ontario Works Case Manager, worked as a departmental Supervisor, and has been a Policy and Program Review Analyst for the past fourteen years.